1960s / Driven daily / German / Volkswagen

Driven daily: Volkswagen Beetle

sf-volkswagen-beetle-7A Volkswagen mechanic once told us that “the days of the daily driver Beetle are over.” His theory was that Beetles were outdated, too slow to keep up with modern traffic, too finicky to provide reliable transportation and best kept as occasional drivers. This early-1960s Beetle photographed on the outskirts of Chinatown in San Francisco, California, is proof that you can still use an air-cooled Volkswagen as a daily driver in the era of touch screen-based infotainment systems and keyless entry.

The dashboard and several small rock chips indicate the Beetle started its life Beryl Green and was resprayed white in the distant past. It suffers from the typical dings and dents associated with cars that have spent a significant portion of their time in big cities, but California’s relatively dry climate appears to have largely spared it from rust.

Save for the paint job, the Beetle is entirely original inside and out, down to the Bendix Sapphire I AM radio. The odometer shows 66,000 miles (106,000 kilometers) but it has likely rolled over at least once over the past five decades.

The daily driver Beetle is certainly not dead but it is undeniably threatened by the rising value of air-cooled Volkswagens. Survivors like the ones pictured below are getting harder and harder to find and fully-restored examples are climbing up in value. Age and performance won’t kill the Beetle, but its days as a daily driver – and as a people’s car – will end when clean examples trade hands for the price of a new Mercedes-Benz and owners are scared to drive them.

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3 thoughts on “Driven daily: Volkswagen Beetle

  1. “Too finicky?” You sure this guy was a real Volkswagen mechanic? The Beetle’s air-cooled engine is anything but “finicky.” People who are mystified by carburetors, points, and things that aren’t controlled by a computer module might imagine they’re finicky, I guess, but Beetle engines will operate reliably with a considerable amount of maladjustment.

    • Ha, I’m certain the guy was a Volkswagen mechanic because he told me all this in his shop. I drove up a 1962 Beetle that I was driving every day at the time (5-ish years ago) so I just let him talk, bought the parts I was after and drove off.

  2. I have to share Michael’s amazement. A Beetle daily driver isn’t common anymore, but they’re still out there, giving yeoman service to anyone who wants it. Then again, your VW mechanic was probably someone who made his living on Golfs, Passats and EuroVans. It was “too finicky” for him because he didn’t want to be bothered.

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